For full context, I'll be including the opening passages regarding IBO's first season that I more or less posted last night. I'm positive that this will require multi-posting so I'm sorry if that is a particularly loathed habit. I promise that I've done my best to remain concise so I hope that this comes off as well composed and easy to follow.
So then, without further ado...
Anyway, lets start with acknowledging that split cours are tricky business. This really did have me worried about IBO. To define what its relationship is to the industrial standard, lets exemplify Gundam 00 and Code Geass as our high profile trendsetters.After giving it a few weeks to collect perspective on the complete first season, I feel confident in my assessment that, uh... it's okay? (So far.)
Though I'm hesitant to distract people with personal details, I'd like to clarify my position on this by first saying that I tend not to enjoy open dialogues on a work in progress. The act of consumption hasn't been a communal activity for me in many years. In fact, I feel I may have joined this forum sooner if I had returned to the franchise any earlier in my life.
How that comes back around in relating to Gundam IBO is that I am first and foremost acknowledging it as a work in progress. As early as the first cour, it increasingly seemed to me like IBO was pre-approved for 50 episodes based on the frequency of story beats and lack of structural urgency. Of course, nobody could say that with certainty due to the lack of an official announcement. With the series progressing as it did, I found that this ambiguity was causing me some concern for how badly they could end up botching their execution, particularly during the events of episode 24.
Thankfully, I was vindicated and utterly relieved to see a season finale that ended up not feeling at all rushed, nor grinding to a halt with a cheap cliffhanger. Such has been the trend in shows like Valvrave or Aldnoah Zero and those series in particular seemed to be trying to replicate the chaos of Code Geass, without any of its elasticity and dumb luck in rebounding from circumstance. But even if it were to end up predictably resorting to a timeskip, I feel optimistic about IBO's future now purely from having such a clean shave.
And that's about as much as I'd like to say about the show's actual contents, haha. I want to see the shape it takes before delving in too deep. Speculation is just not as interesting to me as it is to discuss a work with informed perspective. What interests me at the moment is the narrative science of the split cour format. So please just skip the rest of this post if that sounds at all boring and overly indulgent :p
Regrettably, I feel like I'm in the minority compared with opinions that are still reverberating but I regard Gundam 00's sensibilities on the split cour format, as well as its execution, to be functionally correct. Code Geass came before it, but unlike 00 being announced as running for 50 episodes, that series became what it is purely through the ping pong'ing of the show's production schedule. And yet despite its off the wall presentation and polarizing reception, I truly believe that Code Geass persevered both as entertainment and as an artistic statement.
On the other hand, I do consider this to be dumb luck. It actually says more about Goro Taniguchi being immensely talented at managing out of control subject material. In the hands of any other director, Code Geass would have collided against the wall like an accordion. Taniguchi instead crafted the anime equivalent of a Rube Goldberg machine: ingenious and viscerally curious, but highly improbable and convoluted.
It stands to reason that cynical attempts to replicate this formula have been done without any kind of finesse. This has been further exacerbated with the industry's non-committal shift to one cour seasons, forcing shows like Aldnoah Zero to have violent speedbumps in their plot progression. It's one thing to take a hiatus after 24 episodes of development but with only half that time and a conscious effort to have the cutoff point reflected in the text (just like Code Geass!), you drastically risk curtailing your ability to develop a fluid storytelling relationship with the audience.
This is where 00 succeeds and where many have failed. I think that a lot of what won over so many people about the first season and why it continues to impress is that it was allowed to be a complete experience. It had a beginning, a middle and an ending. There were character arcs, tragic plot twists and an explosive climax. It was not a 100% fully contained story and it left numerous loose ends but the satisfaction gleamed from its finale was a calculated and well earned victory.
Which is why I sincerely believe that the second season's change of setting is not what bothers people on a subconscious level. That would be the most obvious difference and is often attributed as the underlying cause for disappointment. Of course, this is a perfectly rational response since both SEED Destiny and the Zeta movies were fresh at the time and a third reprisal of that base setting was pushing it. However, this is only a failure relative to its time of release. More importantly, the second season was not a self-sustaining arc and it suffered from a complete dependency on its predecessor.
So while 00's first season can reasonably be considered to be its own series, the second is burdened with existing both as a separate arc and as a necessary continuation. It's a natural consequence then that the "double O's" ended up looking quite a bit disproportionate in their ability to tell a story. Putting aside grievances with execution, your level of satisfaction with the second is thematically predicated on your willingness to accept duality over symmetry. In this sense, were you to distribute greater capital to the second half, 00 begins to function as complete series.
Yet even then, with the existence of a third chapter, I do not think that its story can be said to be truly whole without it. As such, I would argue that "A wakening of the Trailblazer" is even further underestimated in its artistic accomplishments. Not only does it serve to elevate the existing material by returning the series to a unique setting, it also serves to equalize the two halves and compliments them by pushing its concluding themes of peace and understanding to their utmost extreme. (An 0 Raiser to the Twin Drives, if you will.)
The 00 movie is singularly radical for its brand-defying conflict with extraterrestrials. But where it shines, where it does something so truly revolutionary that will it never be repeated again, is how it finally, uncompromisingly identifies and subverts the franchise's hypocrisy of peace through submission.
The only other series to end with a justified depiction of pacifism, and in the only way possible within the constraints of human conflict, was Turn A Gundam. But even that lacks 00's idealistic triumph and totality, instead taking satisfaction in the the fleeting beauty and the uncertain promise of a continued existence. Aside from personal aesthetics regarding subtlety, not one of these things is especially superior the other but these two shows alone are alike in their commitment to inspiring progress.